"On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets"
Christianity was not "invented" by Jesus Christ, the way Buddha invented
Buddhism, or Confucius invented Confucianism, or Mohammed invented Islam.
Jesus Christ did not "start" a religion at all. Instead, he fulfilled and
completed the saving work of God that was begun by Godís call to Abraham
to leave the Ur of the Chaldees for a new life of grace.
We have to have words to call different things, and so we are probably
stuck with calling Christianity a "religion" in modern English. But "religion"
is a broad and inaccurate word, because it was always meant to be. All
it means in the original Latin is "that which ties things together" or
"that upon which men rely." The ancient Romans settled on this word because
their Empire treated all "religions" as more or less equally true and more
or less equally false.
The Romans had to be vague because they valued civil peace above truth.
They feared that any assertion that one religion was true in a way that
all the others werenít might lead to riots, disorder, and a disruption
of trade. We find a perfect example of this Roman attitude in Pontius Pilate,
the Procurator of Judea, who condemned our Lord. As St. John tells us:
Pilate therefore said unto [Jesus], Art thou a king then? Jesus answered,
Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause
came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every
one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What
is truth? (John 18:37-38).
Our Lord bases his entire defense, not on a claim of kingship, but on
the truth. Pilateís answer, "What is truth?" isnít an expression of his
willingness to learn the truth, as much as it is a confession: "What is
Ďtruthí to me, when I am about to have a riot on my hands?" The members
of the Jerusalem mob, made up entirely of an occupied people, had been
studying their captors for a long time, and they had discovered this weakness.
They pushed Pilate by telling him, "It thou let this man go, thou art not
Caesarís friend" (John 19:12).
And how did Pilate respond to the choice between the truth of Jesus
Christ and the policy of his Caesar to maintain civil peace at any price?
St. Matthew tells us:
And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out
the more, saying, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail
nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his
hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this
just person: see ye to it. (Matthew 27:23-24)
In this way, Pilate avoided the "tumult" or riot that he feared, but
at what price? He crucified a man that he knew was innocent, and he tried
to wash his hands of both the truth and the blood. It should be brutally
obvious that no one on earth, then or now, can wash his hands of either
the blood or the truth of Jesus Christ, but that remained the policy of
the Roman government for most of three centuries. The Roman government
attempted to continue its "civil peace at any price" policy that all "religions"
are of equal value and truth, even erecting a public building called "the
Pantheon," the "place of all the gods." Each religion was allowed a niche
in the Pantheon, as long as its members never claimed the absolute truth
of their particular religion.
The Christians, however, refused to participate. They had Jesus Christ,
after all, and he is the Truth, as well as the way and the life. Their
Lord had said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto
the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). And they believed him. They proclaimed
that only the Way of Jesus Christ is true, and that all other "religions"
are false, man-made or so man-distorted that they neither serve God or
lead to him.
The Romans were outraged at this threat to their civil peace, but they
offered the Christians one final out. The Christians could declare themselves
a "private cult," a special category under Roman law that would allow them
to practice their religion in private as long as they did not interfere
in any way with the religion of anyone else. But again the Christians refused,
citing the final commission of their Lord before his ascension into heaven:
All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore,
and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of
the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever
I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of
the world. Amen (Matthew 28:18-20).
"All power in heaven and earth" is given to Jesus Christ by his Father
in heaven, which leaves no power over truth to any other religion or to
any government, including that of the Roman emperors. Christianity is,
by definition, a missionary faith, and the Christians could not practice
it without asserting the absolute and final truth of the Gospel against
all comers. The Christians had to make disciples for Jesus Christ of the
peoples of every nation in order to be Christians. And so the Roman government
persecuted them and killed them, using as two of the main accusations against
them "atheism" (for their refusal to acknowledge other gods and religions)
and "hatred for humanity" (since they would not disobey Christ and leave
mankind in the peaceful possession of its fallenness and sin).
Our own government and society are in the process of adopting a policy
on "religions" that isnít very different from that of the Roman Empire.
We are told that we must be more than civil to the people of other religions.
We are told that we must give them our approval and encouragement, as if
their errors are on an equal footing in reality as the truth of Jesus Christ.
We are told that we must pretend that other "religions" have the power
to save souls and to guide lives to God.
While we should be civil and, more importantly, charitable to others,
since this is only what the law of Christ demands of us as Christians trying
to make disciples for him; we must also recognize that true charity does
not permit us to leave our neighbors in deadly error. Even more, we must
recognize that our duty to Jesus Christ outweighs our desire for civil
peace, or we will find ourselves saying with Pontius Pilate, "What is truth?"
Peace with God comes first, and at any price. And that is why we must be
careful when we speak of our Christian faith as a "religion," because we
must understand that the One True God considers the following of his only-begotten
Son to be much more than a "religion."
Abraham did not leave his home in Ur for a new religion. God did not
promise Abraham a new religion, but a new life, and the fulfillment of
that promise of new life arrived in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus of
Nazareth is called "Christ" in the Greek or "the Messiah" in Hebrew, because
he is the Chosen One of God to fulfill all of Godís promises of life whatsoever.
Jesus Christ is God, the eternal Son of God made man, to redeem mankind
from sin and death. Jesus Christ is Christianity, if "Christianity" means
following the Christ, the Son of God, the Chosen One who is, in and of
himself, the new life that God first promised to Abraham.
God, of course, was not idle in the years between Abraham and the coming
of Christ. God actively taught Abrahamís descendants, the Israelites. God
gave them his holy moral law, still summarized today by the Ten Commandments.
God sent prophets to speak and to teach in his Holy Name, so that the details
of his Sonís coming and the response that we should make to that coming
would be clear. God, by the Holy Ghost, made certain that both his Law
and the words of his prophets would be written down, perfectly, clearly,
and accurately in the Holy Scriptures. These words were the promise, and
Jesus Christ is the total keeping of the promise.
We call the book that recounts the promises of God "the Old Testament,"
just as we call the book that completes the Bible by recounting Godís fulfillment
of his promises "the New Testament." These were not the terms in use, however,
when our Lord was made flesh and walked the earth. The New Testament was
yet to be written down, so that it could only be heard in the preaching
of the Gospel by Jesus Christ and his Apostles. The Old Testament had a
different name, too, based on the way that God had revealed it. It was
called "the law and the prophets."
When our Lord gives "the Summary of the Law," the first great commandment
to love God with all that we are, and the second like it that we love our
neighbors as ourselves, he concludes by saying, "On these two commandments
hang all the law and the prophets." By these words, he is telling us more
than "all the teaching of God in the Old Testament can be summarized by
two simple statements from it." He is telling us that he brings to earth
nothing new, that he isnít starting a new religion to replace the religion
of the Old Testament. He tells us that all of the truth of God is fulfilled
in himself, and that he is the Chosen One, the Christ.
All who wish to have the life-giving relation that God first gave to
Abraham must now turn to Jesus Christ, who is the perfection of that gift
and the reality of it. All of the so-called "world religions," whether
in the Roman Pantheon or in the modern American social equivalent, are
outside of this one relation of life in God. They are all, unfortunately
for those who profess them, untrue and powerless to give true moral guidance
on earth or eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.
Christianity is true because Jesus Christ is the one and only Truth
of God. It is up to us, then, as Christians to do what Christians have
always done, and to hold up the one Truth of God, Jesus Christ, before
all men, whether they like it or not. We canít wash our hands of this truth,
and neither can they. And we do them the greatest service in the world
as our neighbors, and we love God best, when we do not let them settle
for anything less that the complete and utter Truth of Jesus Christ. This
is how we obey the Two Great Commandments that summarize all of the Law
of God and the teaching of all his prophets.
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.